Brenda has had a busy day – ironic, given she’s supposed to be in semi-retirement. It’s as if keeping busy is just something she naturally does, hard-wired into her DNA. No doubt if you took a sample you’d see it. If you picked a strand of hair from the floor, a strand that had floated clear from her as she rushed past, her arms clutching bags and a note clamped between her teeth. And you respectfully sealed the strand in a ziploc bag, and took it to a laboratory, and slid it under a microscope, or whatever it is you have to do to visualise DNA (I really have no idea). No doubt it would all come into focus, the delicate, molecular twist of it, the multi-coloured ladder curving in on itself, rungs of the base elements: blue for capability, yellow for experience, green for humanity, red for love.
Brenda’s long service was rewarded recently. She got a certificate, a 40 year service pin for her uniform, a voucher for fifty pounds.
‘So that’s 80p for every year,’ I said.
‘It’s not about the money, Jim,’ she said. ‘Which is just as well…’
To be fair, everyone’s had a busy time of it today. The hospital has been discharging patients like wrecked sailors bailing out a lifeboat. Not only that, our existing caseload has plenty of complication to keep us distracted. There are blocked catheters to deal with, deteriorating patients, reports of increased confusion here, cause for concern there, anxious relatives, access issues, cars breaking down. I’ve spent the morning seeing patients and then struggling to make contact with their doctors, who I know are buckling under the strain themselves. Now I’m back at the office, helping coordinate for the rest of the day, which feels like a Battle of Britain pilot being dragged off their plane the moment it lands, put in an operations room, and asked to move figures around on a table with a mop.
By the time Brenda comes back into the office late into the evening, I am fully and fatally in that ‘Answer Any Question’ mode, that marginally insane, input / output, ruthlessly reactive, beep, beep beep state of mind that doesn’t stop at the end of the shift so much as power down and slump.
‘Oh my God! What a day!’ says Brenda, hurrying down the aisle and throwing herself into a chair, tipping her head back, her legs straight out, her arms straight down, like she didn’t just walk into the office so much as drop through the ceiling. Then looking up at the clock, making a cartoon Aargh! noise, plugging in her laptop, snapping up the screen, and furiously typing up her notes.
You could write a book on the different IT approaches you see around the office. The equivalent of a bird spotter’s guide, The Wild Office maybe, a detailed drawing of each individual, their markings and bandings, a note on the variety of calls they tend to make, and then a description of their typing style. Brenda reminds me of Rowlf , the dog who played piano on The Muppets, the way he leant over the keys, enthusiastically pounding away, staring closely at his paws, but periodically looking up to check he was following the notes.
‘Oh…!’ says Brenda, leaning back in the chair and smacking her head.
‘What’s up, Brenda?’
‘I can’t think what it is…’
‘Can’t think what what is…?’
‘That thing! You know! When golfers play golf. They put the ball on a little bit of plastic. What’s it called…?’
I’m blindsided. Has Brenda seen some kind of golfing injury?
‘I thought you’d never ask!’ she says, with a huge smile. ‘No sugar…’